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 Nigerian hunchbacks: People see us as money-making machines

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PostSubject: Nigerian hunchbacks: People see us as money-making machines   2014-12-21, 09:33

Hunchbacks have become
endangered species in Nigeria,
Adeoye Dowo was just 22 years old
when he was murdered. His female
friend lured him into a bush at Ago
Alaye, a village in Odigbo Local
Government Area in Ondo State,
where he was strangulated and his
hump removed by three men.
Taibatu Oseni, also 22, suffered
same fate. She was killed and the
hunch on her back was removed by
her murderers.
Little wonder Saheed Oyedokun
lives with the daily fear of being
caught in the grisly hands of ritual
killers who hunt people like him for
‘quick money.’
When our correspondent met
Oyedokun, he was standing on a
raised concrete floor amidst the
boisterous crowd of traders, buyers,
drivers and passengers at Olomi
bus stop in Ibadan, Oyo State.
Though he agreed to an interview
with SUNDAY PUNCH, which was
negotiated through an
intermediary, he chose a bustling,
noisy public place as the initial
After a further phone call from the
intermediary and a press identity
card was shown to him, Oyedokun
was willing to talk.
He explained his initial reluctance:
“I know what evil minded people
think about me; they see me as a
money-making machine. I am
careful about where I go and what
time I move around. Also, I don’t
stay late in my shop. I ensure that I
walk in company of someone if I
must go to a place and I do my best
to avoid strangers,” Oyedokun said.
The intermediary who pleaded
anonymity had earlier said
Oyedokun might be reluctant to
talk to SUNDAY PUNCH, “He only
spoke to you because he trusts me.
Using hunchbacks for money-
making rituals is common. How
many hunchbacks do you see
around these days? They seem to
have been driven underground by
the evildoers.”
Dark, barely four feet and easily
noticed in the crowd, with curious
eyes staring at him, Oyedokun has
been carrying the hump for more
than two decades. Walking nimbly
along a dusty rustic area, he led the
journalist to his one-room
apartment. As he sat on his modest
mattress without the support of a
bed, Oyedokun narrated the tale of
how he lives with the fear of being
kidnapped and used for money-
making rituals.
He said, “When I was 10, I fell ill and
I was taken to the hospital. When I
started recovering, I noticed that
my back was growing in a strange
way. I don’t know the type of
sickness it was. After some months,
it had become so big, and then I
stopped growing tall. Even though I
was young, I knew that something
was wrong because people looked
at me in a strange way.
“My parents did not allow me go
out and if I went out, I could not go
alone. When I grew older, I
understood why I was shielded for
that long. Some people see the
hunch on my back as a money-
making tool. I have heard different
stories about people with
hunchbacks being used for rituals,
even in Ibadan where I live. I have
heard different stories on radio and
“The fear of being kidnapped for
money rituals is greater than the
shame of being a hunchback. If not
because my friend assured me that
you are an authentic journalist, I
won’t meet you. I don’t talk to
strangers and I hardly move in
lonely places. I don’t want anyone
to kidnap me.”
Just like Oyedokun, Mr. Alaba
Akinduro lives a sheltered life. Fair-
skinned, handsome and neatly
dressed, Akinduro, who is the
Principal of Puritan College, has a
hump on his chest.
“You remind me of an irrepressible
reality,” he started slowly, if not
“While I believe in God as being the
ultimate life giver and taker, I am
aware of the fact that people like
me are being kidnapped because
they are hunchbacks and are later
killed with their humps removed. I
learnt it is done so that the killers
can become rich.
“Knowing this, I try to be careful of
how I move about. I usually don’t
walk in lonely, quiet and dark
places. I always inform my wife and
any other close acquaintance if I am
to meet a stranger. Before you
came here, I had called my wife
that someone was coming to see
me. I gave her your details in case
anything happens.”
Beautiful Rafiat, 19, also lives with
the same fear. With big, fitting
eyeballs, she does not appear as
someone who carries the burden of
two humps — one on the back and
another on the chest. She tried to
speak slowly. Ope, her older sister,
who was beside her vehemently
resisted the request to interview
Rafiat in spite of all entreaties.
“She can’t grant you an interview.
She is so precious to us. It is only
our mother that can decide that.
Though you said you are a
journalist, we live in a dangerous
society. You may be pretending to
be a journalist so that you can hurt
my sister,” Ope said.
Efforts to speak with Rafiat’s
brother, Akeem, to allow her talk to
our correspondent were also
For Ope and Akeem, who would
rather do the talking than allow
their younger sister talk, there is no
letting her out of their sight — for
the fear of kidnap and ritual killing.
“We love her. We know how people
in her condition are viewed by
ritualists. They view hunchbacks as
individuals they can easily use to
make quick money. We hear about
hunchbacks being kidnapped and
killed and their corpses later found
to be without the humps.
“We have heard and read in the
papers how hunchbacks are used
for money. Even though you look
responsible and someone from this
neighbourhood brought you to
interview Rafiat, we are sorry you
can’t talk to her,” they vehemently
stated while refusing to disclose
their surname.
The myth
Ritual killings in Nigeria are not
uncommon. Usually, the victims are
kidnapped in public buses and
taken to a secret location where
they are dismembered.
In March 2014, a forest said to be a
‘slaughterhouse’ for ritual killers
was discovered at Soka in Ibadan,
Oyo State, where scores of
decomposing human bodies were
found while about 23 other victims
were rescued alive by security
operatives and people in the
Soka is one of the many places used
for ritual killings in different parts
of Nigeria.
Apart from kidnapping people
without disabilities for money
rituals, the notion that hunchbacks
are bigger money-making
machines is quite rife.
A traditional doctor, Mr.
Fagbemikola Olugbode, told our
correspondent that Obatala
(regarded as the father of all
Yoruba deities) had a wife who had
a hump on her back. According to
him, she was driven away from the
palace because of the deformity.
“Alone in the bush, far away from
the kingdom, she made a success in
farming. Before long, the deity-king
requested that the wife should be
brought back to the palace.
“From that moment, she was
treated as a special person. People
with a hunch on their backs are
very special and that is why
particular rites follow the death of a
hunchback. In fact when they die,
they are not buried like ‘normal’
people. They are buried upright;
not lying down.
“Even though they are special,
some other herbalists started
killing hunchbacks believing that
they are money-making machines. I
don’t do such and I don’t know how
they concluded that they can get
money from hunchbacks,”
Olugbode said.
However, a consultant and spine
specialist doctor, Dr. Emmanuel
Iyidobi, debunked Olugbode’s
According to him, having a hunch
on the back or on the chest can be
as a result of tuberculosis infection.
He said, “It is very sad that a
medical ailment has dangerous
connotations in Nigeria. And this
great misconception is common in
the South-West, South-South and
South-East. Some even say humps
are filled with diamonds hence
families have to chaperon family
members with the condition.”
But most of the people contacted
by SUNDAY PUNCH were not born as
Similarly, the Medical Director of
the National Orthopaedic Hospital,
Enugu State, Dr. Cajetan
Nwadinigwe, noted, “Having a
hunch on the back could be
congenital — what can be called
inborn error. Or, it can be acquired
due to diseases like tuberculosis of
the spine. I must also mention that
in some cases, the cause is
unknown. When the hunch
manifests on the chest it is called
pectus excarinatus.”
Stigmatisation and
Apart from living with the fear of
being hunted for money,
Muhammed Umar had to relocate
hundreds of miles away from home
to avoid stigma and discrimination.
But he was wrong.
Observed from afar, he looked like
a six-year-old. A closer look
revealed an adult in his forties.
When he stood, he barely
measured up to four feet. The
outline of his physical posture
presented a protrusion at his spine.
As our correspondent extended a
hand to him, with a wad of N50, his
eyes glistened. He mumbled in
gratitude. Handing him another
note of N200, he was ready to talk
to him but in a brief and in an
almost unintelligible English
“I left Sokoto State in the North
because of the way people were
treating me but people in Lagos
see and treat me same way I was
treated in Sokoto. But at least, I
make more money from begging in
Lagos. There is money in Lagos,” he
In a quivering voice and tears
almost breaking through his
eyelashes, Akinduro also described
the disgust he feels looking at the
hump on his chest anytime he
takes off his cloth.
“My physical condition made my
mother to become poor because
she spent all her money on trying
to find a solution to my problem.
She did her best as I am the
seventh of her eight children. I was
six years old when the hump on my
chest developed.
“I can’t lie to you; each time I look
at my condition, I often feel
depressed. The pain I feel deep in
my heart does not make me feel
really happy. Why me? Why did this
have to happen to me?” he asked.
If he is contending with shame
within, the stigma from the society,
the college principal said, is
“Though I am happily married now
to a beautiful young woman, so
many ladies recoiled at the thought
of my dating them while I was
“I have been insulted. I have been
described in various unprintable
terms; some of those words still
ring in my ears. There are times
one just finds life almost
impossible to live,” Akinduro
If stigma dogs people with humps,
discrimination is like adding insult
to injury. Akinduro, a graduate of
Marketing, claimed he had been
denied employment opportunities
because of his physical deformity
even though he was qualified for
the job.
“I am good at marketing; I’ll be the
best; I have great ideas but many
people don’t believe in me,” he
Oyedokun, on his own part decided
to grapple with the harsh reality of
his condition. He owns a small
unlicensed pharmacy.
“Many people avoid my shop just
because of my back but I get by
through the patronage of those
who do not mind my circumstance,”
he said with a tone of resignation.
‘Condition medical not mythical’
An orthopaedic surgeon at the
National Orthopaedic Hospital, Dala
in Kano State, Dr. Francis Awonusi,
explained that having a hunch in
the back is often a manifestation of
tuberculosis infection.”
He said, “The spine is forced to
protrude when the infection is not
well treated or treated on time.
The infection destroys the bone in
the back. The condition can be
corrected. However, this will
require a complicated operation.”
Iyidobi, the spine specialist at NOH
Enugu also described hunched back
as a colloquial name for the
medical condition known as
kyphoscoliosis. In this condition,
the back bone or spine, especially
the thoracic spine bends sideways
and forward to produce the
deformity seen as a hunch in the
back. According to him, the hunch
itself is composed of ribs pushed
backwards due to the deformity in
the spine.
Parents who are hunchbacks may
give birth to children with the
condition, the medical experts said.
To prevent this, Iyidobi said,
“Pregnant women should not take
teratogenous medications. All
medications should be as
prescribed by a doctor especially in
pregnancy. Early detection and
proper treatment of slight bending
of the spine will prevent obvious
and severe hunched back.
Immunisations against
tuberculosis, safety on the roads
and at home are also preventive
measures that should be adhered
“Let me also add that the idiopathic
kyphoscoliosis is commoner in
adolescent girls while those caused
by neurofibromatosis is commoner
in boys. There are no racial
The condition is not known to affect
reproduction adversely. It is also
ordinarily not a fatal illness unless
in very late stage of neglected
cases when the individual may die
of respiratory failure.
Iyidobi added, “The hunch can be
arrested depending on the cause.
Most will require surgical
intervention. National Orthopaedic
Hospital, Enugu, runs a spine unit
where these complex spinal
deformities are treated.
“The congenital and the idiopathic
types have hereditary tendency.
The acquired type is preventable
by drugs and vaccination. But the
condition does not affect their
ability to reproduce.”
Pain can be a constant feature in
the lives of hunchbacks especially if
the hump is severe.
In mild cases, the orthopaedic
surgeon said no one but very
intimate relatives will detect the
problem when the person
“Moderate to severe disease is
obvious to all. Apart from pain, the
person may also have exercise
intolerance and thus becomes
breathless when subjected to
moderate to severe exertion. In
neglected cases, paralysis of both
legs is possible.
“Majority of hunch backs have
idiopathic causes, that is, causes
that are unclear. There are some
that have clear causes including:
congenital or inherited,
neurofibromatosis, tuberculosis of
the spine and trauma. A hunch
primarily manifests in the chest or
thoracic region. It is the bending of
thoracic spine and crowding and
protrusion of the ribs that manifest
as hunched back.”
Speaking on the possibility of
hunchbacks living a normal life, the
Vice-President of Joint National
Association of Persons with
Disabilities, Mr. Iyke Ibe,
encouraged them not to look down
on themselves even though the
society may look down on them.
“There are people in Nigeria who
use their fellow humans as sacrifice
to become wealthy. Politicians are
known to be involved in this kind of
rituals; they can do anything to get
power and to make money.
“I will urge those who have
hunches to be alert at all times.
They should bear in mind that they
are objects of target. Nevertheless,
I will want them not to be too
restricted so as to enjoy a normal
life,” he said.
Waiting for disability bill
For hunchbacks and many other
disabled persons, they may have to
wait a little longer for
governmental authorities to pay
them the desired attention they
Though the Disability Bill has been
passed into law by the National
Assembly, President Goodluck
Jonathan has not assented to it.
Nigeria is a signatory to the United
Nations Convention on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities, which
requires that member states
should pass national legislation on
Though the Nigeria Police are yet
to unravel the ritual killers behind
the death of Dowo and Oseni, the
Force Public Relations Officer,
Emmanuel Ojukwu, urged persons
living with the condition not to live
in fear.
He said, “The police are there for
everyone’s protection. If they are
afraid, we urge them to pay
particular attention to their
personal safety and welfare. They
can also report any suspicious
person to the nearest police
In spite of the assurance of
protection from the police,
Oyedokun said since some people
like him had been used for rituals
and the police could not save them,
it was a situation of “every man for
“I am not sure I can rely on the
police for my personal safety,” he
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